Most helpful critical review
I would create a large sign "Please keep off the Island"
on 29 August 2013
When I picked this book up I had no idea that it was aimed at a teenage market. It was originally published in 2001 with this edition appearing 5 years later. From the perspective of engaging readers and keeping them on the edge of their seats it did not work well in this scientifically-uncontrolled study of a population of 1.
A group of 50 environmentalists, prizewinners and guides, are flying to Ecuador, their prize being to visit the Galapagos Islands and a rain forest. The travellers are all British Young Conservationists - which I repeatedly read as British Young Conservatives, which would be a very different kind of story. As it stands it borrows from H. G. Wells' "The Island of Doctor Moreau" and William Golding's "Lord of the Flies".
The plane ditches in the sea, explodes and only the three young people Miranda, Semi (Semirah) and Arnie, manage to reach a deserted shore. This excitement was presented in a very matter-of-fact manner and so an early opportunity to create tension was lost. Halam deals slightly better in describing their teenagers' initial hopes of being found on the island and their growing realisation that this is unlikely to happen.
One day Arnie disappears after building a rather unseaworthy raft. The two girls then find a way through the rocky cliffs and discover a series of buildings before they are captured. It transpires that this is the secret headquarters of a team of mad scientists, led by the eponymous mad Dr Franklin supported by the worried mad Dr Skinner, who are seeking to develop transgenic humans using modified animal, fish and bird DNA/genes, don't worry if you cannot follow the biotechnology. Miranda and Semi are the ideal ages to be used as human guinea pigs and treated with bird and fish DNA/gene extracts, respectively. Strangely, they do not protest very much.
The gene transplants are inserted, the experiment succeeds, as happens in science, and we end up with Miranda as a large eagle and Semi as a giant ray. Fortunately (for us), the evil scientists had inserted `chip implants', or maybe `chimp iplants', into their brains so that they could still communicate telepathically in animal form to one another and to readers by `flipping a few mental switches', don't worry too much about the neurobiochemistry involved.
Not that I cared, but Miranda was told by her anthropologist parents that Dr Franklin had been dismissed from a government research organisation for conducting mad (= unethical) experiments, but was wealthy enough to fund his own research and laboratories, and to continue his investigations, don't worry about the economics. None of the characters were remotely believable, all having previously been treated with cardboard implants. The evil Dr Franklin did, however, have a benevolent side since he repeatedly failed to do away with the arch-plotter, Dr Skinner.
I have no idea how teenagers will respond to this story but I found it very disappointing. The book might have touched on the creation of friendships, dealing with isolation, on ethics in science, on dealing with challenges that seem insuperable, on how each individual has innate strengths and weaknesses, so that, by creating and working together as a team of people with complementary skills, much more can be achieved than is possible if all work as individuals. The cover photograph, of a snake on a beach, is rather beautiful.
I hope that teenagers will read this book, but have no idea whatsoever what they will make of it. Maybe there will be a lot more genetic engineering going on behind the bicycle sheds after school?